Abide and Thrive

May 10, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The 6th Sunday of Easter 
Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

During the first few Sundays of Easter we heard stories of encounters with the resurrected Jesus – outside the empty tomb; on the road to Emmaus; and in the upper room. Now, like a television show that gives us a “flashback scene” we’ve gone back in time, before the arrest and crucifixion. We’re getting a glimpse into what Jesus might have said to the disciples just before he was going to leave them. It’s a different picture of Jesus. Through these private conversations, we see a pastoral, caring and supportive Jesus – much different than the image of Jesus during his public ministry.

In his public ministry in John’s gospel, we have a Jesus that is compelling people to a new way of being. He’s turning over the tables in the temples to get them to re-claim their purpose; daring to break down barriers by talking with outsiders, like the Samaritan woman; exhibiting the spirit of God’s command of love for others by healing the blind man, even if it breaks the rules of tradition that tells them they can’t work on the Sabbath.

But now, we find Jesus secluded with his disciples; his inner circle. He knows what’s about to happen. He shifts from being their teacher, preacher and prophet, and is now focused on being their pastor. One of the last acts as a teacher was conveying the importance of servanthood. And now, as Jesus knows what lies ahead, he’s serves them even more, by preparing them for what’s coming next.

Today’s gospel reading picks up where last week’s left off, as Jesus continues a conversation with his disciples. He says. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

Abide in my love.

This word “abide” isn’t used much anymore. When I looked it up online, the definitions provided were:

  • accept or act in accordance with a rule or decision – “I will abide by that decision”; OR
  • to be unable to tolerate someone or something – “I can’t abide a lack of discipline.”

So, we tend to think of this word ABIDE, as one focused on rules. But, that isn’t how it’s used in scripture.

The Greek word is μένω (menō), and it means to remain; to last; to endure. But it isn’t like the Energizer Bunny’s battery kind of enduring and lasting. Instead, it’s more about a state of being – a steadfastness and a co-existence, ABIDING in God, and abiding TOGETHER.

a Byzantine Icon of Jesus as the Tree of Life

a Byzantine Icon of Jesus as the Tree of Life

When we look back at last week’s passage about the vine and the branches, we see this even more clearly. They abide in one another.  It said

Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

There is a mutuality; an interdependence.

As the conversation continues with this week’s passage, we hear:

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you [may REMAIN in you; may ABIDE in you], and that your joy may be complete.

And so, what it takes to abide in Jesus love is to keep his commandments, just as Jesus kept God’s commandments. And so you ask the next logical question – What commandments?

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

This is no small task, to be sure. This isn’t “love your neighbor as yourself”, this is love one another as Jesus has loved them – his disciples.

It’s natural for us to prefer an easier commandment. I saw evidence of this when I was reviewing the bulletin earlier this week. The prayer at the end of the Prayers of the People said in part “may we love one another as we have loved you.”

While this may make the commandment more attainable, to love others the way we love God, that isn’t what we’re called to do. We’re called to love others as God loves us. So, don’t be surprised when we get to that part of the service and you see that I changed the ending prayer, back to what we are actually called to do.

So here is Jesus with the disciples. He knows that they are about to face a challenge that will be very difficult. They’re going to lose their Rabbi, their teacher, their Messiah, to a brutal and shameful death. There’s a very real risk that they will be scattered to the winds; that they will be lost, like stray sheep that can’t find their way.

rs_560x360-140819084905-1024-baseball-speech.ls.81914So, all this “abiding” language is, in a way, Jesus’ locker-room pep-talk. Jesus is preparing them; assuring them of their ability to persevere, even to thrive – to bear fruit – in spite of the challenges they will face. But, to do it, they must ABIDE with each other; REMAIN and ENDURE with each other, and with Christ.

As I was thinking about this, it reminded me of a time when I was in the 9th or 10th grade. Our Youth Minister was about to leave to go to another church and we didn’t know who would be stepping in to take his place. It’s easy in times like that for the kids in the youth group to splinter and lose connection. But, there was a core group of us who stuck together. eyc-cropWe began sitting up in the balcony together during the worship service.  And, even though it was a few months before a new youth minister arrived, when he did, the Youth were still together – we REMAINED; we ENDURED; we ABIDED in the assurance and strength and love of one another, and of Jesus.

We had made a commitment to one another, and it was sustaining.

And, in today’s reading, something shifts in the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. Amid the pep-talk and support, the assurance that Jesus’ love abides in them and their love will abide as well, something else happens. It says:

You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

These guys have been hanging out with Jesus for quite a while, yet their relationship has been somewhat parental in nature; or at least teacher/student. Now, there’s a shift to a relationship, and it has become one of mutuality.

The Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington D.C. talked about this in her blog this week. She asks:

MEB_photo_update_2013What does it mean to be Jesus’ friend?…. For typically we begin our relationship with him focused on ourselves and what we get out of the relationship, what it means for us. It takes time and a lot growing up for us to imagine what our relationship might mean for him. But that’s when a friendship of mutuality can begin.

Jesus wants friends rather than servants. He invites us to love as he loves, to see the world through his eyes, and to offer our hand in friendship to others as he has offered his to us. It’s both humbling and empowering to see ourselves as his friends. For with friendship comes intimacy and responsibility.

Yes, I agree that with friendship comes intimacy and responsibility – and I believe that it involves CHOICE.

In this pastoral setting, Jesus has assured the disciples of their strength, and his faith in them and in their ability to face these impending challenges. He commands them to love one another in spite of the struggles. And then, Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last”

This is the ultimate testament of mutuality and trust.

Jesus has chosen them and he knows that they are capable of doing these things. They have been given all they need to bear fruit, fruit that will last… that will REMAIN, that will ENDURE – fruit that will ABIDE together in mutuality.

This kind of mutuality is dependent on our love for one another and it’s a choice we make each day. When we get up in the morning, we can choose to love; choose to abide with God – embrace the gift of God’s constancy in abiding in us.

Then, we can decide what living into that choice looks like.

  • coach and teamWhether it’s a coach that gives the locker-room speech to pump up the team before they take the field;
  • the teacher that puts in the extra time to show support and confidence in the student;
  • the executive that truly cares for the well-being of their employees;
  • the employees who work faithfully and honestly;
  • the parent that shares words of support and guidance to help the child take the next step or overcome an obstacle;

and so many other acts that translate into bearing fruit.

These are the choices we make to love others as Jesus has loved us. This is what it is to abide with another and to abide in God’s unending love.

So, let us go forth this day and each day, making the choice to embrace God’s abiding love in us, and then, go and share that abiding love with others.

IMG_2752

 

Gospel Text:

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

        “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”” (Jn 15:9-17)

2 Responses to “Abide and Thrive”

  1. Jim Greenwood said

    Your last two sermons were excellent. Bless you. Love, Dad

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Jim Greenwood said

    Really terrific message. Thanks.

    Love,

    Dad

    >

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